by Marque A. Rome
I spent most of the last few days putting together statements to police and prosecutors for my friend, Vladimir, who trusted his girlfriend more than he should.
Vlad is now 75. The latter part of his life he spent cruising the world on a yacht. Two years ago, embarked on public transport to Malaysia, where his boat was parked, he met a pretty girl about half his age by name of Toy — modest, with engaging manners, she seemed to disregard age and love him for his finer points.
So he decided to sell the boat and settle down with her.
It took him a year and more to find a buyer, who bargained for the lowest price he could get, but Vlad was eager and sold the Flying Dutchman for just under four million baht. It was his entire fortune save a small pension scarcely enough to pay the rent.
So he knew he had to be careful.
Vlad opened a savings account, leaving his money untouched for seven months, meanwhile scraping by on his pension. In opening the account, he had brought Toy along to translate — but in fact understood none of her conversation with the accounts clerk, merely signing papers as they were handed to him.
Vlad was wary of having an ATM card, not wishing to withdraw money from the account, thinking that the interest it earned would pay his rent in lump sums yearly. So he told Toy he wanted no ATM.
She, however, told the clerk a different story, and the card was issued without his knowledge — in front of his very eyes and signed for by him — then kept by Toy, along with the PIN number. Over the next seven months, Toy gradually withdrew a little more than half of Vlad’s money.
He only discovered the mess he’d got into after going to update his account book. To his amazement and considerable dismay he saw, instead of burgeoning interest, his greatly depleted capital.
Visions of the wolf at the door spun round his head, and when he asked bank personnel how this could be, he was met with a sneer: “You should keep better care of your ATM withdrawals,” he was told. When he rejoined that, “No! I have no ATM!” They laughed and said that was evidently not the case because all the money was withdrawn via ATM.
Toy, meanwhile, underwent a radical change in character, from homebody to fashion-plate bar-hopper. Formerly sporting a visage untouched by creams or paint, she now made the beauty parlor a daily part of her routine. She bought fancy clothes, a new motorbike, smartphone, and put money down on a new house after breaking up with Vlad.
To explain her sudden riches, she said she had bought a retail clothing outlet in some southern cow town where the return on investment, according to her, was an incredible 100,000 baht per month. To buy the store, she explained, she borrowed money from a cousin.
She also acquired a generous new boyfriend.
Vlad swallowed her tale whole, never suspecting Toy had played him false till he saw records of the bank withdrawals, with times and places that pointed unequivocally towards her. Now — too late — he realises what a silly fabrication it all was.
Police are waiting to examine CCTV footage from various ATM kiosks before they arrest Toy. They’ve been waiting for a month, and even if should they tie Toy to the withdrawals, it’s by no means clear that will be enough to convict her or restore to Vlad his fortune.
After all, she did it all in plain sight.
Pressured by investigators, she might plausibly insist the withdrawals were entirely consonant with Vlad’s wishes and that he only turned against her when she got a new boyfriend.
Then Vlad will be in the invidious position of trying to prove he did not rob himself, perhaps facing criminal charges for false impeachment and arrest.
Although local constables clearly desire to present the appearance of incorruptibility, their reputation, sadly, tends towards an opposite pole; and I cannot but think that, seeing the millions Toy got by use of hardly any craft at all, they must think the remainder of Vlad’s money safely theirs when he puts his faith in such practised artists as they.
The lessons to be learned from all this are:
1) Banks aren’t as safe as they’d like us to believe
2) Love may be rather less than all-conquering, at least when it comes to money
So don’t check your brain at the airport when visiting abroad, readers, especially not here, or you’re in danger of being a lot poorer when finally you retrieve it.